Earlier today, the unfortunate news broke that David Montgomery left practice with a potentially serious injury. This is incredibly bad news for the Bears, but even more so for the second year player who is looking to improve in his sophomore campaign with increased comfort both with the playbook and with the NFL in general. All around, not good.
This being the NFL however, the season must go on (assuming COVID doesn’t do it in). So. What exactly are the Bears options at running back? I’ll break this down into two sections: Long Term (if Montgomery misses most or all of 2020), and Short Term (if he only only misses a handful of games or less).
Seeing that there isn’t really a suitable long term replacement for Montgomery on the roster with only Tarik Cohen, Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce and (sort of) Cordarrelle Patterson behind him, Ryan Pace would likely look to bring someone in. With that in mind, these are the best FA options available for a long term replacement:
Freeman is a fairly accomplished NFL starter, and has operated well in a timeshare too (something that could easily be done in Chicago with Tarik Cohen). He is a jack of all trades type back who can be equally useful in the passing game as he is in the ground game. At 5’ 8” and just over 200 lbs, he is a physical runner with good burst and vision who is solid at everything, if not spectacular at anything. He runs good routes and has developed into a pretty good pass blocker during his 6 year career, so on paper he has every down back versatility.
Of course, he was released in Atlanta for a reason. He didn’t look himself last season, seeming a step slow and lacking power. Of course he did miss most of 2018 after sports hernia surgery, and battled a recurring foot injury as well. At this point, it’s tough to say whether that played a role in his down performance in 2019, or if age has caught up with him at 28. Running back is a physical position, and he was a physical runner after all.
If he is back to his old self after another off-season of recovery, then he could make for a solid long term replacement for David Montgomery.
Ware has never really been a starter in the NFL. Yes, he’s been called on to start, but he’s never really been a team’s featured back. That said, he is an accomplished runner and has produced well when called upon. At 5’ 10” and 224 lbs, he is a big, physical runner with a nasty streak who excels at short yardage. While not a prolific pass catcher, he is competent enough to be trusted in the pass game.
Is he as versatile as Montgomery (or a healthy Freeman)? No. Does he move the chains anyway? Yes. Having averaged 4.6 ypc through his career, he has established himself as a guy who can get it done when called upon. On top of that, having spent 4 years in KC, he is more than familiar with Matt Nagy’s offense. That said, he would probably be better utilized in a timeshare with Cohen and Patterson than as a featured back in his own right. There’s also the question of whether or not he’s fully healthy after being placed on IR late last season with a torn Rotator Cuff. He was also a free agent for most of last season before being re-signed by the Chiefs after a slew of injuries at the position, and didn’t exactly light the world on fire in his 3 games back.
With all that in mind, if he is in good physical condition, Ware could be more than useful for the Bears should Montgomery miss significant time. His utility as a short yardage and goal line back alone would be useful, but he would also be a solid piece to have in a rotation with Cohen and Patterson on early downs as well. He’s not a replacement for Montgomery, but he could be a strong anchor for a committee, and at a bargain basement price most likely.
Crowell is an interesting back. He’s been a starter, but still doesn’t feel like he’s ever gotten a fair shake. Being in Cleveland will do that to I suppose. At 5’ 11” and 225 lbs, he is a big bodied back with good burst, vision, change of direction and balance, with enough top end speed to do some damage at the second level. He’s never been much of a receiver, but of course he’s largely had to deal with Cleveland quarterbacking (and Duke Johnson), so he may not be as bad as his numbers make him look in that regard. Pass pro is a question with him, but again, he often spent much of his time off the field when in passing situations, so it’s hard to judge that fairly as well.
Obviously, he’s coming off a torn Achilles that cost him his 2019 campaign. That’s not an insignificant injury to come back from, so questions remain as to where he is physically at this point. If he is healthy though, he is an intriguing option at the position carrying a career 4.3 ypc average and a skill set that could be very useful to this Bears team should they be without David Montgomery’s services long term. I could see him fitting adequately at the top of the rotation with Cohen and Patterson, and would likely come at a team friendly price as well.
In the case that Montgomery doesn’t miss much time, there are a slew of other options the Bears could take.
If Montgomery is only likely to miss a few weeks, the Bears may well just run with what they have. A rotation of Nall, Cohen and Patterson isn’t exactly inspiring, but it may work well enough in the short term to negate them needing to bring in another back, or maybe just bring in a UDFA like Reggie Corbin to shore up the back end. In my mind, should Montgomery’s injury not be serious, this is the most likely course the Bears take.
Powell has always been a solid role player in New York. The fact that he stuck with the team for 9 seasons should be a testament to that. At 5’ 10” and 205 lbs, Powell is a solid runner carrying a 4.3 ypc average through his career, and a reliable pass catcher out of the backfield. On top of that, he’s quite good in pass protection making him useful even when not running the ball. At 31, he’s likely no season long solution, but for a game or two, he’s probably better than anyone currently on the roster, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a veteran presence in the running back room.
Look. Marshawn isn’t the Marshawn of years past. He’s 34, and has gone through his fair share of injuries. I’m really only bringing him up due to name recognition and don’t see him as a legit option really. That said, with fresh legs and a committee approach, he could be useful for a game or two, assuming he takes his Geritol.
Chris Thompson Thompson is more of a 3 rd down back than a true runner. This might be a bit redundant with Cohen and Patterson on the roster, but there’s little denying Thompson ’s acumen as a pass catcher. Could Matt Nagy shift to a short pass game out of the backfield in place of a true ground game until Montgomery gets back (assuming his injury is monor)? Maybe. If that’s the plan, then Thompson wouldn’t be a bad option. I’d say this isn’t a terribly likely outcome, but it is worth mentioning. Never mind, I somehow missed he was signed by Jacksonville. I’ll leave this here as the point still stands.
Bonus: Trade Options
I’ve heard Bell’s name bandied about as a possible trade target for the Bears should Montgomery be lost for a significant amount of time. While I think it’s unlikely The Bears swing such a deal, it is worth looking at. I’ll spare you going over what Lev Bell could bring to the team, as I’m sure you’re all familiar. Suffice to say, he would likely fit in well in this offense, and has a skill set well suited to being the lead horse on a Matt Nagy team. However, the cost to acquire him would be not insignificant, and his contract would put a decent dent in the cap space. That said, there is enough space, and any draft pick investment in him could probably be recouped in the off-season should they trade him away (assuming he has a good season).
Like I said, I don’t see this as a likely outcome, but it is worth mentioning.
I’m sure everyone here will join me in hoping for a quick recovery for David Montgomery. I was (am) personally excited to see what the kid can do in year two, and this injury is a real shot to the gut. Hopefully he’s good to go opening day, but in the chance he’s not, what are your thoughts on what the Bears should do? Leave them in the comments below.